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Exoneree conference highlights gaps in dealing with the wrongly convicted

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Monday, April 20, 2009

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Media Contact: Herb Booth, Office:817-272-7075, Cell:214-546-1082, hbooth@uta.edu

ARLINGTON - When the wrongly convicted are exonerated and released from prison, post-release services and resources to help them re-enter private life are difficult to find.

Filling such service gaps is among the topics to be discussed during "A Day for Social Justice: The 2009 Dallas Interfaith Exoneree Conference" scheduled 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Friday, May 1, at Christian Chapel CME Temple of Faith, 14120 Noel Road, in Dallas.

The University of Texas at Arlington School of Social Work is sponsoring the conference with Central Dallas Ministries and the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church. The Hogg Foundation, a UT Austin organization that helps raise awareness of mental health issues, also is supporting the event.

Dallas County District Attorney Craig Watkins is the special guest and a conference speaker. Watkins founded his office's Conviction Integrity Unit in July 2007. It oversees the review of hundreds of DNA cases in conjunction with the Innocence Project of Texas. More than 20 people who were wrongly convicted in Dallas County have been exonerated.

Dr. Jaimie Page, director of the Exoneree Project at the UT Arlington School of Social Work, is organizing the event along with Social Work graduate students Crystal Joshua and Chasity Alexander. They hope to educate the faith-based community about the service gaps that exonerees experience and aim to raise money to close those gaps.

Dr. John Stickels, assistant professor in criminology and criminal justice, started a chapter of The Innocence Project of Texas at UT Arlington in 2003. Some of his students are working to exonerate inmates believed to have been wrongly convicted. Dr. Stickels also serves on the board of the Innocence Project of Texas.

Some clients have served almost 27 years behind bars, the professors say.

"Exonerees aren't given a dime when they leave prison. Many don't have a place to lay their heads that night," Dr. Page said. "If they have no family - and many do not - they are essentially homeless."

Exonerees are not eligible for benefits that actual parolees can receive because they are, in fact, innocent, Dr. Page noted. She said the Exoneree Project hopes to fill a six- to eight-month gap in services. Proceeds could be used for medication, identification, toiletries and clothing, but also counseling and immediate housing upon release.

During the conference, several exonerees are scheduled to talk about their experience. Several panel discussions also are planned. The topics are: UT Arlington School of Social Work's Exoneree Project: An Overview of Texas Exonerations and Exoneree Issues; Legal and Legislative Experts: Wrongful Convictions, Dallas County Efforts and Legislative Update; and Faith Leaders: Spirituality, Social Justice and Roles of Interfaith Leaders.

Tickets range from $15 to $25 per person depending on whether attendees plan to buy lunch. Attendance is free for exonerees and family members.

Make checks payable to "UT Arlington School of Social Work." Mail checks to Dr. Jaimie Page, director of the Exoneree Project, UTA School of Social Work 211 S. Cooper St., Arlington, Texas, 76019.

The registration deadline is Thursday, April 30. Contact Page at jlpage@uta.edu for more information. On-site registration is available from 8 to 8:30 a.m. Friday, May 1.

Dr. Page also is organizing a Fall Exoneree Conference for social service providers.

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The University of Texas at Arlington is an Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action employer.

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